Movie Review: Coraline

One year for Christmas, I got my niece the book “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman, in an attempt to turn her into a total dork. It paid off, and quickly, she was enamored with Neil Gaiman, so I gave her a Sandman volume and my copy of Neverwhere. Not sure if she ever read those, but “A Game of You” isn’t the lightest of reading when you’re in high school.

It was only fair that I read the book too, and I ended up loving it as well. Compared to the pages-and-pages of Boxcar Children books I mis-spent my childhood on, the world of Coraline was alive with rich detail, creating an imaginative modern day fairytale … sort of like most of Gaiman’s other work.

So when the movie was announced, we joked that I’d fly home to the land of the other Doomkopfers just to see it. Instead, I dragged a friend along with me so I wasn’t a creepy, bearded 25-year-old spending a Sunday afternoon alone in a children’s movie.

So, a few weeks after the release, my review:

So the tone of the movie is the same sense you get from “A Nightmare Before Christmas,” also from director Henry Selick: it’s able to craft a world of its own. The sense of fantastic darkness looming over a kiddie picture strikes just the right mood.

The story is about a young girl who moves into a house divided into three apartments – the other two inhabited by 1) vaudevillian sisters with a vast array of Scottie dogs, and 2) a Russian acrobat and his mice. Her parents work all day on a plant catalog, so she’s left with nothing to do but explore the old house and the adjacent property.

On one of her explorations, she finds a mysterious door, and kind of like Beetlejuice, she opens it to find nothing but a brick wall. But as she goes to sleep that night, the door opens, and mice beckon her to it. As she goes behind it, she discovers a parallel world – rather than irritated, busy parents, there are doting parents who give her whatever she pleases. Oh, but they have button eyes. And, of course, things aren’t what they appear, and a great evil hides behind the visage of this world and the “other mother.”

Like I said, mostly kid’s stuff. But it gives a fantastic sense of wonder to watch, as each element of the book comes alive. I read it long ago enough that I can’t remember the specifics, so I can’t talk on plot digressions. Each character is wonderfully fleshed out and crafted, adding to the whole of the world. The seamless mix of claymation and CGI is, in and of itself, a feat for an animated movie.

However, there were a few things the film lacked.

Like “Nightmare Before Christmas,” there’s a lot of really cool stuff going on, but it falls just short of a whole. You’re swept away in this meticulously crafted world, but then you realize the delivery of the story has an incomplete narrative. Some of the neighbors go under-introduced, to where they seem thrown into the mix rather than well-prefaced. In the end, it feels simply incomplete.

So, if I had to assign a grade, I suppose this is a pretty solid B. It’s nice to see another good Gaiman-based movie, and I’ll just keep crossing my fingers for a Death movie.